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ConAgra’s Switcheroo Doesn’t Go Over Well With Bloggers

Chef George Duran and food analyst Phil Lempert. Photo: Brian Ach/AP Images for Marie Callender's via 'NY Times'

ConAgra attempted to blind taste test their Marie Callender brand lasagna and desserts with food bloggers and mom bloggers a couple of weeks ago and instead left many of them with a bad taste in their mouths.

These bloggers thought they were going to an “underground restaurant” in the village called Sotto Terra to enjoy a gourmet meal with special guests, chef and TV host George Duran and food industry analyst Phil Lempert. They were promised a surprise, but obviously didn’t expect the meal they were eating to be care of Marie Callender’s. The idea is they were supposed to be pleasantly shocked, like this group was when they found out their gourmet pasta meal was actually from Pizza Hut.

Instead, The New York Times reports, a fair number of the bloggers complained that the meal was “a sham,” filled with chemicals, and didn’t target the right audience. Negative comments were also posted on social networks.

Huge event fail.

According to Jackie Burton, the director of corp comms at Ketchum, which handled the event, many people did have a positive response to the event.

Generally, if you play a joke on a bunch of people, there are going to be some who stomp away in a huff rather than laughing with you. And many taste tests are done randomly with people who are asked if they have time to spare to participate in something they know to be a PR stunt. In this case, part of the problem sounds like these writers had to go out of their way to attend this event, particularly the mom bloggers who are probably too busy to go out very often. The story says people were reimbursed for any travel expenses or babysitting services they had to pay for.

The event may have more successful if, for example, it had been turned into a parlor game rather than a trick. Part of the bloggers’ meals could’ve been gourmet, the other Marie Callender’s, and they would be tested to see if they could tell the difference, making it a test of their palettes.

Also much like the best jokes, the key is the set up. Although, I have to admit, I thought this story was pretty funny.

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